Written for an AvengersKink prompt: gen teamfic, angsty kid!fic
"They're all children - between 8 and 12, maybe. They live out in the country, and while backgrounds would obviously have to be tweaked, they still have incredibly fucked up backstories. This would take place over a summer break.
Think fishing on the lake and climbing trees and sneaking Bruce in through a window because his dad's violent-drunk tonight, and putting ice on Clint's swollen lip, and Pepper always pressing food into hands, and Natasha fierce and cold and lonely, and the way they bend and give for each other, like kids are so often so eager to do.
Angstyness with dollops of sweet and a happy or hopeful ending?"
At Ten We Are Still Learning
The first time that Bruce comes with a hand-shaped bruise on his arm, he casts his gaze sideways, tries to hide it, pull his arm away and behind him, but they've already seen.
Phil remains calm but Steve is instantly on his feet, cards forgotten, demanding to know who hurt him.
What comes out isn't all that surprising to Phil, thought it's still just as horrifying.
Clint confesses to his demons one day as they sit on the pier, legs in the lake water, the sun setting behind them, two boys whose shadows cast are so much older.
"When I walked in…he was…he was touching her."
Nothing but furious disgust in Clint's tone, young voice hard and Phil nods mutely, too shocked to speak.
It's the story of Clint and Natasha and the foster parent who tried to get between them. Who wrongly believed that he could take advantage of a young girl and not suffer any consequences.
"I suspected…but she never wanted to tell me. She'd just…every time he'd beat me, she took care of me. And I…he never once hit her but he…I saw him and what he was doing and I lost it."
Clint looks down, at the hands that Phil now knows are capable of murder, as small as they are.
"I just wanted to scare him…I didn't mean to –to…"
Clint flinches hard at first but Phil just draws him in, embrace as tight and comforting as he can make it.
"Barney, my older brother…he, he's never, ever been there for me, but that time… he took the blame… He took the blame."
Clint cries softly against his shoulder.
The inside covers of Steve's sketchbook are covered in glossy, colorful photographs. His mother is in most, a golden retriever in a few.
Looking at the pictures Phil does a double-take. He and Steve are the same age but the blond is at least four inches taller.
Steve just laughs warmly. "I used to be smaller when I was younger. A doctor came around the city, Dr. Erskine. Gave me some vitamins...I think they were called Vita-rays or something like that. They weren't very tasty."
Phil smiles at that, continuing to flip through the notebook. It's a privilege that he's thankful for (Steve keeps his drawings to himself even when the others tease him for it). Steve has fast become his best friend, someone that Phil deeply respects and looks up to.
He doesn't think he will ever forget Steve's unfailing courage.
"Is your mom any better?" Phil asks after a while, cursing himself even as the words spill forth, knowing he's ruining the mood.
"Not really." Steve says, voice strong. But his blue eyes are far away, swimming in unshod tears.
"You could ask Tony, maybe he can help," Phil blurts out in a small moment of desperation. He hates seeing Steve in pain, the way Steve works odd jobs all over, all the time, because his father left him and his mother is much too sick.
Tony is rich, but he and Steve are always at odds. It's been three months since they all found each other but both boys can barely stand to be in the same room.
Phil winces. Shouldn't have said that.
Steve swallows, "Do you think that Stark... that he would really help?"
Phil thinks. He himself barely knows Tony. As the unofficial secret keeper of the group, Phil has gained the trust of all the others, even Loki to an extent. But Tony remains distant. And yet, he plays with them constantly, lets them use the cabin. Pepper is Tony's best friend (besides Rhodey), and Pepper is really, really nice and wouldn't be friends with someone who isn't also nice, even if Tony doesn't really show it.
"It's worth a try."
When Phil thinks of how things might go, he tends to be realistic. He knows how Tony can be, how what he says and the way he says it can cut.
When Steve makes his request, Tony answers with an easy smirk and careless chuckle, "Can't make the rent for your shack, Steve?"
The words chafe, and hard.
Before Phil can rise to Steve's defense, Clint is stepping forward. He's around the same size as Tony, but in that instant he towers over him. The glowering sneer on his face is real, and furious, and Phil wonders if these are the eyes of the boy who brought up the courage to stab a man in the chest, right in the heart.
But Tony doesn't back down.
"You think you own the world, don't you? Clint growls. Steve is trying to get between them now and Bruce is quickly moving towards the door while both Thor and Natasha watch anxiously. Phil wishes that Pepper were here, because if anyone can rein Tony in, it is her. Tony isn't the least bit intimidated, rising up, shoulders forward and set.
"Are you two idiots done with your spat yet?" The novelty of Loki speaking is enough to stall all activity. Later, Loki will confide in Phil, "I just wanted them to stop."
Even later, Tony will come to him and say, "Rogers won't accept handouts. I'll see if Jarvis can finagle some yard work for him. And for you and Clint, so it doesn't look like he's being singled out."
Phil finds himself surprised.
Tony has a notebook too, a much nicer one than Steve's 3-for-a-dollar kind. Phil catches sight of it one day, abandoned on the main table inside the cabin. He knows he shouldn't, not without permission, but the curiosity is overpowering. Inside he finds detailed schematics and diagrams, weapons and death. Finds his gut roiling. Turns the page. A circular object, colored in with light, pure blue.
Angry hands snatch the notebook from him, angry brown eyes stare him down. "Didn't figure you for a snoop, Phil. You know, curiosity killed the cat."
"Tony, that's –we didn't know."
Tony grips the book tightly and when he looks up, the emotions are clear on his face. Disgust, self-deprecation, fury, careless grin long gone. "If I don't produce…I need to be useful, do you understand?" Tony looks desperate, but Phil cannot understand. All his life, even now when his family is falling apart, he's known love as an unconditional thing, not a barter or trade or commodity.
Tony tires of waiting for an answer, and his defenses slam back into place. "Look, just, uh, leave it alone next time, ok?"
As Tony is walking out of the Cabin, Phil works up the courage to say, "You're not alone anymore."
Tony says nothing in response before walking out.
Tony Stark has a heart.
They learn that the hard way.
Phil doesn't really remember how it started anymore. For all he knows, they were playing something one moment, and the next –the next Tony and Clint are face-to-face in anger again. He vaguely remembers that Tony said something, something careless. Phil has learned that Tony says things he doesn't mean all the time, but Clint is long tired of being put down, and Tony's money and status rankles, even when they try very hard not to notice the privilege they believe the boy enjoys.
He and Pepper run into the cabin, called in by the ruckus.
Clint is almost screaming as he sends Tony back with a hard shove. Steve calls for him to stop, but Clint doesn't listen, not this time.
"I'm tired of your games, of what you say to me! Nothing more than a little rich boy who doesn't know anything!"
"You're welcome to walk away, any time you want," Tony returns, ignoring Pepper's plea to stop.
Clint sneers. He aims to hurt, he is still just a child, so susceptible to emotion and its power. "But what do you have, really? No friends, that's for one. I've yet to ever see your mom, and your dad hates you, I've heard your rich buddies talk about it. He doesn't even love you, does he?"
He's gone too far. Loki is bristling, and Bruce is near tears.
Tony's face is pale, and he stumbles back, hand going up, fisting his shirt tightly, breathless. Pepper is at his side in an instant, pushing past Clint and Steve. Her small hands settle on either side of Tony's face.
"Tony? Tony, you need to calm down, okay? Breathe, okay? Breathe."
She and Tony breathe together, like everything and everyone else has disappeared.
"It wasn't...Clint's fault...didn't know...okay...Pep?" Tony's ragged breathing slowly returns to normal, and they all stay quiet, watching, shocked.
Pepper simply embraces Tony, tucks his head against the crook of her shoulder and neck.
"His heart is sick," She explains.
Tony mumbles something inaudible.
"He didn't want to tell you."